The COVID-19 pandemic raised the microscopic world of pathogenic microorganisms into our everyday awareness. This invisible-to-the-eye realm where bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses exist has brought profound change to how businesses work not just in this country, but across the globe.
As we continue to work in this new set of microbial-induced circumstances, keeping the workforce healthy is now a top priority for office managers and facilities supervisors. Whether an employee works in a traditional or home office, ensuring a healthy environment starts with the place pathogenic microorganisms (germs) are most commonly found: the laptop.
Microscopic pathogens can survive on surfaces like a laptop keyboard or computer screen for hours, sometimes days. Because of this, disinfection is a necessary step in reducing the risk of infection.
While using a cleaning agent such as soap removes microbes from surfaces so they can be rinsed away, disinfecting is how germs are actually killed. While cleaning a laptop screen, mouse, and keyboard should be done frequently, using a disinfecting wipe on a consistent basis will kill the microbes cleaning misses.
Microbes are a part of our world. They exist in the air, in the soil, and in the water. They also exist on us. Not surprisingly then, the bacteria on our skin, fingernails, and hands are readily found on employee laptops. However, bacteria and other types of pathogenic microbes from all the places our hands come into contact with are also transferred to laptops.
According to one study conducted by Northumbria University, the most common pathogenic microorganisms found on laptops were staphylococci, streptococci, and airborne bacteria like micrococci. These disease-causing bacteria can lead to anything from benign skin infections to much more serious health concerns like pneumonia or meningitis.
Another study completed at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital found that Enterococcus faecium (VRE) and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) were able to survive on a keyboard for up to twenty-four hours. The less deadly Pseudomonas aeruginosa (which causes pneumonia) lasted an hour.
And of course, influenza and the coronavirus can exist on laptops that haven’t been properly disinfected as well.
With bacteria and viruses able to exist on all of a laptop’s surfaces, all workers, even those engaged in remote work, should disinfect their laptops on a regular basis. This means using a disinfecting wipe on any touchscreen, computer screen, the keyboard, the outer shell, and any external devices like a mouse.
While a weekly disinfection is often appropriate, the current pandemic has altered the frequency with which computer equipment should be disinfected. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests employees disinfect their laptops daily. According to the study, the use of a disinfecting wipe led to a 36.8 to 100 percent reduction in the microbial contamination of surfaces.
When employees return to a traditional office setting, the risk of spreading a virus is much more severe. It is recommended workers use a disinfecting wipe three times a day: at the beginning of the workday, around midday, and at the end of the day. This—alongside healthy hand hygiene, regular cleaning, and social distancing—should be a clear expectation for all employees as businesses return to in-person activities.
Computer keyboards have over a hundred individual keys. This makes cleaning them time-consuming, which employees cite as the most common reason they neglect doing it. To ensure that remote employees limit their laptops’ ability to harbor pathogenic microorganisms, employers need to communicate clear expectations about cleaning and disinfecting to their workers.
When expectations are communicated clearly and with a precise purpose, employees are more likely to adhere to them. In turn, managers will benefit from considering the ways in which employees will likely contaminate their laptops while at home.
Even though employees may be working from home, an employer can encourage a clean desk policy. One of the main ways keyboards become hospitable to germs is when employees eat while working, which tends to happen more at home than at the office. When employees eat while using their laptops, they are repeatedly transferring any bacteria or virus present on their keys to the food they are putting in their mouth.
Furthermore, crumbs and spills inevitably fall between keyboard keys, creating a home more conducive to microbial contamination. A clean desk policy asks even remote employees to keep food and work separate.
Besides clearly communicating the expectation of cleanliness, an employer can take the next step by providing their employees with disinfectant wipes. Disinfectant wipes will be more readily used if provided by the employer. If not, employees can write them off as one of their home office expenses.
Office and facilities managers can also send out daily reminders to remote workers about the need for disinfecting their laptops. Conferences and phone calls can end with quick reminders as well.
Managers can also consider asking remote workers to keep and use their laptops, if possible, in a clean, dust-free room, preferably at a disinfected desk. Since the dust that falls between the keyboard’s keys can trap moisture and allow existent bacteria to flourish, using laptops in a clean room can reduce the amount of dust that does become trapped. A can of compressed air can easily remove any accumulated dust. These cans also can be provided by an employer or tallied as a home office expense.
Employers can give their remote workers time during their paid workday to clean, disinfect, and sanitize the laptop and equipment they are using. After all, businesses pay a janitorial staff to clean an office. By giving employees paid time to clean and disinfect, you are communicating the importance of this action.
Managers can ensure this by providing employees with the proper cleaning agent and disinfecting materials immediately. Once workers are in a shared office space, the chances of spreading infection rises greatly despite social distancing and a clean desk policy. An employee who has been working on an infected laptop may touch several shared surfaces like a doorknob or light switch before handwashing.
By providing cleaning solutions immediately, employees understand that they are a part of the solution. As Dr. Jay Varkey, associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine suggests, “There should be a clear expectation that the individual who works in that space is expected to keep high touch surfaces clean.”
A policy that suggests when and where employees should disinfect laptops can provide a clear reminder. For example, a policy that states laptops must be disinfected at the start of each workday can establish a healthy routine for office workers.
Products for disinfecting laptops
There is lots of guidance available when it comes to knowing what can be used to disinfect a laptop. The Centers for Disease Control suggests selecting a product from the Environmental Protection Agency’s List, especially if you’re concerned with killing the COVID-19 virus.
Computer makers such as Apple and Dell advise using a disinfectant wipe that is 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Just make sure to turn off your device and squeeze out any excess moisture from the wipe before using it. Like hand sanitizer, the appropriate amount of alcohol ensures pathogenic microbes are killed during disinfection.
Apple also endorses using either a wipe that is 75 percent ethyl alcohol or a Clorox wipe. The computer maker Lenovo advocates using hydrogen peroxide wipes, specifically ones with a maximum of 0.5 percent hydrogen peroxide. One word of caution: the majority of technology experts recommend avoiding any product with sodium hypochlorite (bleach).
Wipes are the most convenient means of disinfection because the disinfecting solution is already part of the product. However, if you supply your employees with a spray, then you should also provide them with a microfiber cleaning cloth, which is a lint free cloth. The disinfectant should be sprayed onto the dry microfiber cloth, not on the laptop or keyboard. Disinfectants should never be sprayed directly onto electronic equipment. Even the smallest amount of liquid could cause a short circuit in the computer or even create an electrical connection (or shock) between laptop and user.
Compressed air should also be made available to employees so they can rid their laptop keyboard and hard drive of any dust that may be harboring moisture for bacteria.
With so many microscopic pathogens living among us, disinfecting laptops and keyboards has become a necessary part of maintaining a healthy workplace. Employees, as well as the visitors and customers who enter a business, deserve to feel safe. Contact Spruce Industries to see the many ways we can help your business operate cleanly and safely.